Assynt Group Buys Highland Estates

The Glencanisp and Drumrunie Estates in Sutherland and Easter Ross will be sold to the Assynt Foundation, it was agreed yesterday.

The community group, made up of about 900 locals, successfully raised the funds, £2.9m, before the deadline imposed on them expired, making these estates the first land successfully claimed under the Land Reform Act (Scotland).

The Land Reform Act was implemented on June 14, 2004. Part 2 of the Act provides the opportunity for properly constituted community bodies representing rural areas in Scotland to register an interest in and buy land when it comes to be sold.

The legislation provides a right to buy registered land which will contribute to the sustainable development and well-being of the local community. Once an interest is registered, the land cannot be sold without the community’s interest being taken into account, and the Assynt Foundation quicky registered interest on these estates in December 2004, immediately halting the sale of the land while they tried to raise the necessary money to buy it.

Chairman of the Foundation, Alistair MacAskill, commented: ?We are elated to be bringing the land into community ownership and creating this opportunity for current and future generations for people in Assynt.

?We do not underestimate the challenges here, but we are determined to manage the land for the benefit of the local community and the wider public. That means we will be changing the way the land is run ? it will no longer just be a private sporting estate.?

The Vestey Family said yesterday: ?We are pleased an agreement has been reached and wish the Assynt Foundation well as it undertakes the significant challenges of large-scale estate ownership and management.?

However, the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association has doubts over the mechanics of such a purchase:

?We have no objections with community ownership and management of land,? said Dr. Maurice Hankey, Director General of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association.

?However, we have concerns at the way the Land Reform legislation interferes in the process of someone selling their property at a time of their choosing and to whomever they wish.

?We wish the Assynt Foundation well with their new acquisition and we hope that their aspirations for the land can be translated into sustainable long-term benefits. The real test of the public interest and of the wise use of public funds through this process will only be satisfied by sustaining and developing employment and economic activity in the area.?